The toughest question for Cameron come 2015: how to solve a problem like Ukip?

The Prime Minister can no longer ignore Nigel Farage and his party

Share
Fact File
  • 25 to 40 seats Michael Fabricant's prediction of what Ukip will cost the Tories in the next election
Related Topics

Some things in life, you put off and put off. The source of the procrastination may be tedium (all those red utility bills yellowing on the doormat), or fear about a medical problem such as tinnitus, which is probably no more than a whooshy noise in the ear, but might prove a symptom of a benign tumour (acoustic neuroma) if you took it to the doctor.

Which of those analogies best represents Ukip in the mind of the Prime Minister, I have no idea. Nigel Farage may strike David Cameron as something to be paid off to avoid being disconnected from Downing St at the next election, or as an ailment that needs investigating to establish whether it poses a real threat. If, on the other hand, he would rather continue ignoring Mr Farage and his gaggle of blazered patriots, one understands the temptation.

For me, ignoring Mr Farage during all the years in which he has buzzed away more as irritant than searing pain has been the only course, though not because he appears to be particularly unpleasant. Far from it, if you fancied buying an MG from a Mayfair showroom in 1959, he would be the ideal salesman. He’d take you into the office, schmooze you over a G&T (ice and slice), proffer the cigarette case, shoot a cuff, tell a risqué joke (“A Scotsman, a Jew and a Belgian Eurocrat...”), and knock off thirty quid because you seem a decent sort of cove.

In so far as I have ever considered Mr Farage – a name he pronounces to (almost) rhyme with mirage, not marriage; there’s a hint of the golf-club Hyacinth Bucket, despite the public school/commodities broker background – it is as an affable hybrid of spiv and snug bar know-all. A cross between a less engaging Terry-Thomas and a less repulsive Peter Alliss, he strikes me as a fine fellow for a brief chat about birds, jazz and mashie niblicks at the 19th, though not necessarily someone you’d care to find in the next seat on a Boeing 777 to Melbourne.

Stuck with Mr Farage for the long haul, however, is what we seem to be. With Ukip up to 14 per cent in one poll, and apparently heading north, this comic figure must be taken seriously. According to another amusing politician, the insanely bewigged Conservative vice-chairman Michael Fabricant, Ukip’s dilution of the core vote will cost the Tories 25 to 40 seats unless an electoral deal is cut. Both Messrs Farage and Cameron, who once described Ukip as closet racists, dismiss that idea at least for now. If the Mexican stand-off persists, Mr Farage may propel comparatively Eurotolerant Labour to power, and do for Ed Miliband in 2015 what a left-wing environmentalist did for George W Bush in 2000. Mr Farage could yet be our very own Ralph Nader.

If that is to be his sentence under the law of unintended consequences, he has the resilience and immunity from embarrassment to bear it lightly. Others whose light aircraft crashed on general election day because the Ukip banner got entangled in the tail fin would have taken this for an omen. This remarkable MEP doughtily went on to reclaim the leadership of his party, with the self-belief with which he famously told the EU President, Herman Van Rompuy, that he had “all the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk”.

Deal breaker

The attraction of such blunt speaking of perceived truth to power in hated Brussels has enabled him to ride out scandals that might have sunk others. A Latvian woman called Liga claimed once to have made love with him seven times, with ice cubes involved, after they met in a Biggin Hill pub. He laughed it off, insisting that while he passed a night under the same roof with Liga from Riga, he merely slept. Ukip if you want to, as he might have put it, the laddie’s only for kipping.

With a cocktail of self-deprecation, bonhomie, tenacity and better political smarts than mainstream thinking has credited him (he has been typically cute in taking advantage of blue-rinse antipathy to gay marriage), he has fashioned himself into a mainstream player. By dint of a rigid consistency born of principles which, whether one likes them or not, are obviously genuine, he has come to speak for a sizeable minority of Thatcherite Tories (and, to a lesser extent, traditional Labour voters) with as clear and authentic a voice as his hero Enoch Powell.

All of this leaves the PM three options. He can offer a deal whereby Ukip withdraws parliamentary candidates from marginals in return for a post-election, straight in-or-out EU referendum in which Mr Cameron would have to fight for “in”, knowing that his defeat and immediate resignation would be odds on. He can seek to nullify Ukip by moving the Tories so far to the right – on immigration, welfare and taxation as well as Europe – that he cedes every inch of the centre ground to Ed Miliband and virtually ensures a Labour victory. Or, hoping to God that it’s idiopathic background noise and not a tumour, he can go on trying to live with that infuriating buzz as best he can. Which is the least hideous option is hard to call, but a hunch says he can forget the last. The time for ignoring Nigel Farage has passed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Digital Project Manager/BA

£300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Digital/Ecommerc...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Test Lead (C#, Java, HTML, SQL) Kingston Finance

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A Global Financial Service Organi...

Access/Teradata Developer, Banking, Bristol £400pd

£375 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Access / Teradata Developer - Banking - Bristol -...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

August catch-up: Waiting on the telephone, tribute to Norm and my Desert Island Discs

John Rentoul
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home